More than 150 Students for a Free Tibet and their allies rallied outside the Elmhurst Library Saturday one day after they met with representatives of Queens Public Library and were told they would not shut down or suspend the Chinese Consulate’s Tibet art exhibit.
The protesters complained that the exhibit was propaganda on behalf of the Chinese government, which invaded Tibet in 1959 and continues to occupy the independent state today. The exhibit shows several pictures of Tibetans and Tibet and aims to educate viewers using distorted facts about the political status of Tibet, according to the protesters. The exhibit depicts Tibet as a place where freedom of religion and language rights are respected, clear lies which whitewash China’s brutal human rights atrocities, they said.
“As a Tibetan-American, I remember growing up and going to the library every weekend,” Students for a Free Tibet Campaigns Director Pema Doma said. “There are so many young Tibetans who go to this library and now they have to see an exhibition that shows that everything is fine in Tibet, when in reality they know about the plight of their families in Tibet. Imagine if a library had an exhibit which showed white Americans in blackface. This is how we Tibetans feel when we see photos on display of Chinese people proudly appropriating Tibetan dress.”
Queens Public Library said the exhibit is part of a series called “China Today,” that was created by an affiliate of the Chinese consulate and that a couple of their branches have in the past displayed exhibits from the series, which includes photos of and explanatory text about Chinese heritage, history, cultural sites and art.
“The photos of Tibetans at the library have been hurting the sentiments of the Tibetan people,” Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of NY/NJ President Ngawang Tharchin said. “Some people at the protests can’t even sleep. We want propaganda out of the library, and we don’t want the Chinese Communist Government to use the public library as its platform. On behalf of TYC, I call on the Queens Library and President Walcott to withdraw the photos.”
QPL added that the current exhibit has its theme “everyday life in Tibet” and contains a series of photographs of cultural events, temples, stadiums, transit projects, and children writing in Tibetan and Chinese.
“We had an honest, respectful conversation on Friday in Woodside with members of the Tibetan community and came away with a deeper understanding about the pain this exhibit has caused them,” QPL said in a statement. “During the discussion we explained that Queens Public Library is a forum for many different points of view, including those that stir passionate debate. We also communicated that we hope they will offer their perspectives in the form of an exhibit and/or programming to encourage further dialogue. However, there is no plan to take down the exhibit.”
The protesters plan on continuing to protest until the exhibit is shut down.